MEDIA RELEASE 09 March 2021

Self-Determination Will Decide the Success of the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission

VALS welcomes the opportunity that the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission presents and commends the Victorian Government for committing to a process that governments across Australia have denied to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Given Victoria will be “first and only jurisdiction in our nation to institute a formal truth-telling forum,” it is vital that it is set up to succeed. VALS believes that Yoo-rrook will succeed if:

  • It is led by Aboriginal people
  • Aboriginal communities are properly resourced to participate.
  • Its work is supported by international experts.
  • It examines the experience Aboriginal people have had with the legal system.
  • It is informed by the lessons of truth-telling processes around the world and learns from their mistakes and successes.
Too many times, Aboriginal people have been subjected to the solutions of non-Aboriginal people. Since colonisation, Aboriginal people have been controlled and oppressed by those who think they know best.

The Government’s commitment that Yoo-rrook will be independent and that at least three of the five Commissioners will be Aboriginal is commendable, but it must ensure that Aboriginal people and their voices are centered and that Aboriginal people drive the process.

Yoo-rrook and Aboriginal communities must be properly resourced. International experts must bring their knowledge to the work of Yoo-rrook to ensure that the truth-telling process results in tangible, meaningful justice.

VALS also believes that it is crucial that Yoo-rrook examines the experiences of Aboriginal people with the current legal system that was imported from Britain at the time of colonisation and weaponised ever since to marginalise Aboriginal people.

Yoo-rrook must also not serve as an excuse for government inaction over the three years it is set to run. We have already advocated for many solutions to close the gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and non-Indigenous Australians.

That is why we have developed our Building Back Better plan and we will keep advocating for the Victorian Government to implement all our recommendations.

The Victorian Government could start by committing to raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 immediately.

Quotes Attributable to Nerita Waight, CEO of Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service

“Yoo-rrook represents a tremendous opportunity for Aboriginal people.”

“Yoo-rrook must be truly independent, properly resourced, and Aboriginal-led.
Self-determination is the only way Aboriginal people will ever get justice. Self-determination too often is stifled by bureaucracies that exclude or sideline Aboriginal voices.”

“We are often told by Prime Ministers, Premiers, and Ministers to wait. That we need to go on a journey with them. That they will do the right thing when circumstances allow. The Victorian Government has the power to improve the lives of Aboriginal people significantly today. And they must.”

Media inquiries

Patrick Cook
Senior Communications and Media Officer
pcook@vals.org.au
0417 003 910

To determine eligibility VALS will:

  • enquire as to the Aboriginality of the client;
  • enquire as to perceived or actual conflict of interest;
  • enquire as to compliance with the Means Test;
  • consider the merit of the client’s matter.

Aboriginality
The first time someone uses VALS they must provide proof of their Aboriginality using the Confirmation of Aboriginality Form. This form must be signed and sealed by the Officer Bearers of a recognised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation.

Conflict
VALS must not decline to provide assistance to an eligible person, group or body on the grounds that the other party to the matter is an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person. In circumstances where the relationship between the parties to a case would result in a conflict of interest, that conflict must be managed in accordance with the Victorian Legal Practice requirements and Policy Direction 9 – “Managing Conflicts of Interest” – of the Attorney-General’s Department Policy Directions for the Delivery of Legal Aid Services to Indigenous Australians (2008).

VALS will not act if a conflict of interest exists. A conflict of interest may be an ‘actual’ conflict of interest or a ‘perceived’ conflict of interest. A conflict of interest can involve:

  • Clients who have different interests, such as VALS may have advised or acted for person “A” (old client) who has an interest that conflicts with person “B” (intended new client).
  • Clients and VALS, such as a VALS staff member or Board Member has an interest that conflicts with an intended new client. Conflicts involving client-provider relationships are:
    •  An owner, director, manager, employee, contractor or agent of VALS and/or;
    • An employee of the Department; and/or
    • A close relative (spouse, de facto, parent, sibling or child) of any of the above.

VALS provides assistance on a first in best dressed basis (i.e. provide direct assistance to the party who approaches VALS first). VALS will refer the other party to another legal service provider or “brief out” the client to a private lawyer (subject to the client meeting the requirements for brief outs). Where appropriate, VALS may act for one client and provide assistance by brief out to the other.

Means Test
Where a person seeks casework assistance, VALS must ensure that applicants satisfy the Means Testing provisions of the Policy Directions.

VALS must ensure that all applicants for legal casework assistance satisfy one or more of the following requirements:

  • Under 18 years of age;
  • Main source of income comes from Community Development Employment Projects; (CDEP) participant wages or Centrelink (or equivalent) benefits; or
  • Gross household income is under $52,000 per annum.

Note: Household income includes the income of your partner, spouse, relative including an adult child who you live with.

The Means Test will be administered in two parts:

Part A: Requires the completion of a small number of questions relating to the applicant’s personal circumstances and income level.

Part B: Is required where applicants do not satisfy the criteria in Part A. It requires more detail about the applicant’s income, assets, employment status and number of dependents.

Merit Test
Discretion will be used to determine if a particular case has merit.